Into the Woods
BOULDER — One of the Persephones’ fish net stockings was torn. Three actresses portray the goddess and this one's visage was by turns anxious, beckoning, defiant. When Narcissus hoisted himself onto a bridge over a clear, bubbling creek, he flaunted his flawless complexion. (Of course he did.) Near the same rushing water (snow’s still melting in the Rockies), a mother was hanging infant outfits on clotheslines and fretting about whether her daughter would or would not return. If she didn’t, all hell would surely break lose.
These are moments from “Rausch.” The immersive performance piece created by the Catamounts, a Boulder theater company, and Denver’s Control Group Productions is a wonder-working of and tender reckoning with the Greeks, their gods and goddesses and — why the heck not? — present-day climate concerns. It unfolds without intermission but with plenty of potent pauses in the grassy, wooded foothills near the Flatirons.
On a recent Saturday evening, a group of culture adventurers boarded a school bus. On that bus were three mischievous messengers, each wearing a hat like those sported by drum majors. From here on out, the gathered would be addressed as “honored initiates” by these exhuberant guides. (There is room for 48 on the bus, a waiver to sign and gentle rules to pay heed to.)
“Rausch” begins at Wild Woods Brewery, as if to underscore the German roots of the show’s title — which translates as intoxication, ecstasy, transport. The Wild Woods folks have kindly crafted an ale for the run.
Once at the destination, honored initiate you will see dance and frolic, hear of anguish and pleasure. You yourself might dance. You may share some secrets, some hopes, some regrets. There will be moments of the most direct of address; be ready for serious eye contact. Like one of my fellow travelers, you might need to stop and slather on some fragrant bug repellent.
Two summer’s ago, Catamounts artistic director Amanda Berg Wilson and Control Group founder Patrick Mueller were cast members in “Sweet & Lucky” — an intimate collaboration between the Denver Center’s canny off-shoot, Off Center, and Brooklyn’s Third Rail Projects. It was a heady and heartstrings intro to immersive performance. Last fall, the two were director and choreographer respectively of Off Center’s 360-degree adaptation of “The Wild Party.” Their involvement isn’t a surprise: Both Wilson’s and Mueller’s companies actively redraw the borders of the area’s performance/theater scene. An original work, “Rausch” parlays their skills and interest in more experiential theater to thought-teasing effect.
The guides asked that we initiates refrain from broadcasting the particulars of “Rausch.” I’ve likely said too much. So I’ll ponder the questions nudged by this type of immersive work, which has been making headway throughout the nation but also in Denver. For instance, does this form of theater solicit something unique from its participant-observers? Not just the pleasures associated with the new but a differently agitated and reactivated subjectivity? Put another way, does hanging with mercurial gods give us a better bead on their — and our — dramas? Or is it simply fresh, different — and fun? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The two arts I write most about — film and theater — are promiscuously flirting with the “experiential.” In some ways immersive theater is to traditional theater what virtual reality, VR, is to cinema: a bid for deeper engagement over what are the (seemingly) passé habits of mere watching.
As an introverted person who tilts toward witness and puts on my most severe “don’t even think about asking me” face when approached by actors to participate, immersive performances present a challenge. Often efforts at engagement feel more clumsily constructed and no more authentic than the ideas and feelings elicited by a play. They simply occupy their relationship to reality in a different way than more traditional fare. That last point, oddly, begins to suggest to this doubter what can indeed be so exciting about the lessons and joys of the experiential.
At the same time that “Rausch” is doing its giddy number in the wilderness, Off Center is presenting “Remote Denver.” Tailored for the Mile High City by the German creative constellation Rimini Protokoll, the event outfits its participants with tech for a prodded audio tour of downtown Denver. A peripatetic gathering? Sounds just right for Little Wanderings.
Photos for this Post: Demeter (Joan Bruemmer-Holden) rages creek side; Persephone (Betty Hart, right) dances with an "honored initiate": Michael Ensminger CampCan o' Rausch: Yours Truly.
Credit when credit is due: Co-conspirators: the Catamounts and Control Group Productions. Co-directors and co-writers: Amanda Berg Wilson, Patrick Mueller and ensemble. Featuring: Chelsea Frye (Hermes/Dionysus), Betty Hart (Persephone/Rocking Chair Lady), Joan Bruemmer-Holden (Demeter), Tara Kelso (Persephone/Rocking Chair Lady), Laura Lounge (Hermes/Dionysus). Jason Maxwell (Hermes/Dionysus), Sexton McGrath, (Narcissus), Mueller (Hades), Rachel Seiger (Persephone/Rocking Chair Lady), Cameron Varner (Adonis). Set Design: Justin Hicks as well as Demeter, Yahweh, the Big Bang, Ma Nature, et al. Costumes: Steffani Day. Lighting: Sean Mallary. Sound: Brian Freeland. The Tough Stuff: Lauren Shepard Wilkinson, McPherson Horle, Kristin Fernandez. Where: the Wild Wood Brewery for starters, 5460 Conestoga Ct, Boulder. When: through June 17. Costs: $30- $55.00. Runtime: 90 minutes. Info: thecatamounts.org or controlgroupproductions.org